Why Japanese intellectuals are studying the history of Hitler’s ride to power

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tags: Hitler, Japan, Germany



Ikeda Hiroshi is a Kyoto University emeritus professor of German literature who has devoted his career to researching fascism. His numerous books include "The Weimar Constitution and Hitler."

… The Nazi Party came to national prominence as a result of success in the national election of September 1930. In this election, the Nazi Party, which had previously held only 12 seats, suddenly gained 107 seats and became the second leading party in the parliament. This result was a product of the world economic crash that started in October 1929. Up until the crash, Germany had been slowly moving toward post-war reconstruction after the Great War, but the Great Depression brought that to a halt. Unemployment soared and societal instability spread. In this climate, the Nazi Party’s exhortation to “make Germany strong again” through Hitler’s strong, decisive and action-oriented leadership was a vote winner. In 1932, the year prior to the Nazi Party’s election, unemployment in Germany reached 44.4 per cent. In the July election, on the basis of campaign sloganeering to “eliminate unemployment,” the Nazi Party attracted 37.4 per cent of the vote, which made the party the largest in the parliament. The Party received less support in the subsequent election of November that year, dropping to 33.1 per cent of the vote, but still retained majority-party status, and so the president was forced to appoint Hitler, as the head of the Nazi Party, to the prime ministership of Germany on 30 January 1933.

So who voted for the Nazi Party? It was not unemployed voters. Their votes went to the Communist Party. It was actually employed voters who feared unemployment who voted for the Nazi Party. This fact is redolent of the strategy of the Abe government who came to power on the basis of campaigns targeting voters fearful of unemployment and uncertain about the future who responded to the party’s pre-emptive “Three Arrow” and “New Three Arrow” approaches to economic policy-making.

Hitler’s Nazi Party garnered votes through stoking fear among voters over straw-man enemies who were attacked as stealing local jobs and causing mass unemployment. On this basis, a combative and discriminatory mindset towards Jews spread among the population, and the path towards the Holocaust was laid. Jews in actual fact comprised just 0.9 per cent of the German population at the time, so attributing them responsibility for 44-per-cent unemployment rates was nonsensical. This kind of demagoguery is similarly seen in the tactics of the Abe administration in its demonising of Korea and China, which has generated a groundswell of xenophobic feeling towards foreign nationals in Japan. This has bubbled to the surface in the form of public abuse of resident Koreans in Japan. We find ourselves easily moved to hatred the harder our lives become and the more uncertain we become about our immediate future in Japan.

Rather than pointing out these intersections of comparison between the Abe and Hitler regimes, I believe there is more value in critically examining how we came to be led by these leaders. The German people in the Weimar Era, our predecessors in history, followed Hitler and allowed the Weimar Republic to give birth to Hitler’s dictatorship.

At the same time as rejecting the Weimar Constitution, Hitler was eager to amend it. However, he was unable to secure the two-thirds majority in parliament needed after the March 1933 repeat-election to succeed in this. Accordingly, he pushed through the new parliament a law, so-called “Enabling Act”. This law would deprive the parliament of lawmaking powers and grant them to the government. Not even post-hoc approval from the parliament was required. The prime minister’s assent was all that was required, and this was Hitler. Article 2 of the Enabling Act even allowed the government to enact laws that violated the constitution. With the enactment of the Enabling Act, the Weimar republic was destroyed and dictatorship under Hitler’s Nazi Party became legally the state of affairs.

Why did the parliament allow the Enabling Act to pass? Why did the Nazi Party gain more seats in the March 1933 election to stay as the leading party, even though constitutional overthrow by the Nazi Party was anticipated as its outcome? We need to consider two historical facts in order to answer these questions.

First, one political party played a critical role in the passage of this law. Under the Weimar Constitution, any bill that would require constitutional revision or amendment would require attendance of two-thirds of the parliament and two-thirds of votes among them. The Nazi Party did not have the numbers to make up two-thirds of the parliament even with support from its nearest right-wing supporting parties. This two-thirds majority was achieved, rather, because the Catholic-aligned German Central Party, which was part of the pro-constitution Weimar Coalition, chose to follow Hitler just before the voting on the bill, out of concern for their self-preservation. It broke a parliamentary boycott and voted in support of the Enabling Act. This historical scenario is perhaps reminiscent of conditions in Japan in the current day.

Once Hitler gained complete control over the legislature, he enacted a law banning the convening of any new political parties other than the Nazi Party and banned existing parties. The German Central Party, which sold out its principles and acted to secure its political power by following Hitler, was also dismantled.

Here is another historical fact that would address the question of why the Nazi Party won the March election in the first place. Even before the enactment of the Enabling Act, Hitler had begun political manoeuvering for constitutional destruction. The Abe government’s forceful enactment of the National Security Laws in September 2015, as many commentators have observed, was an important step towards dismantling the Japanese constitution that was comparable to Hitler’s passing of the Enabling Act. However, for Hitler, the Enabling Act was not the only way to destroy the Weimar Constitution. Nor will it be for the Abe government to destroy the constitution only with the National Security Laws….




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